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State Superintendent Erquiaga Talks Sandoval's Budget For Education


Dale Erquiaga
Nevada Department of Education website

State Superintendent Dale Erquiaga explains how the education spending plan works and where the money would go, if lawmakers pass it.

In a rare move, Governor Brian Sandoval will introduce his controversial budget proposal to impose new business licensing fees to fund education during a joint Senate Revenue and Assembly Taxation committee Wednesday, March 18.

The business license fees are cornerstone to a budget that would create $1.1 billion in new taxes, with the largest portion of that going toward education reform in the state.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga has sat with the governor to craft the education reform. He told KNPR’s State of Nevada the education money will address three problems: early literacy, chronic underperformance and outdated funding models.

“It is a $1.1 billion change to state funding but more importantly it puts the state on a course that, for all of my adult life in Nevada politics, we have said we needed,” Erquiaga said.

The superintendent has known Gov. Sandoval since they went to elementary school together. He said the two spoke about the effort to improve schools during Sandoval’s run for governor last year. Erquiaga said Sandoval didn’t want to look back at his time as governor and know he didn’t try to improve education.

“I know this governor well.  And I know that this plan that he has put forth both on the revenue side and the changes to public education are really what he believes in his heart,” Erquiaga said.

The plan includes keeping in place $600 million in taxes that are set to sunset this year and changes to business license fees that will raise $430 million.

But it is not just about how much more money the state takes in for schools but also how that money is distributed.

Erquiaga said the current funding formula for schools was designed in 1967 when the state population was dramatically different not only in size but also in makeup.

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“The governor’s plan shifts the state’s funding formula to targeted funding for various population groups,” Erquiaga said, “In terms of the substantive legacy this governor will leave, he will forever change the way we fund public education in this state.”  

Currently, schools in Nevada are funded at about $5,600 per pupil but in other states there is a percentage added to that per-pupil spending based on particular needs. For instance, an extra percentage is added for English language learners, or for children in poverty or for special education students.

Under the governor’s plan, student weights as those percentages are referred to, will be added to how funding is distributed.

The plan would also give extra money to schools in the 20 poorest zip codes, creating what are being called Victory Schools. The program would be similar to Zoom Schools but instead of focusing on language skills, it would focus on the problems associated with students in poverty.   

There is also extra money for those Zoom Schools. There are currently 24, all in Las Vegas, but the plan is to double that number.

Changes in how money is distributed ultimately means Clark County School District would get the largest portion of the proposed $1.1 billion, with directives from the state to implement the money in specific programs and services to improve the nation’s fifth largest school district.

But the governor wants more than just investment, Erquiaga said. He also wants efficiency and oversight. 

“The governor said in his State of the State address that this is not a blank check. This is not $400 million placed into what we call the Distributive School Account, which is just $1.2 billion that goes to the school districts to use in their general funds unfettered,” he said.

The money will go to 12 to 14 specific programs each with its own third-party evaluation. The administration has put into place an accountability program that ensures money is used for its intended purpose.

But with Republicans in the state government who have vowed to fight any new taxes, the question is whether Sandoval can get the bill to pass.

Erquiaga said in all of the budget hearings he has attended in Carson City, no one has asked about whether changes to education are really needed or whether the money is really needed.

“There is, I think, in Carson City universal agreement that things have to be done differently,” Erquiaga said. “I think folks understand that the system has changed and that Nevada has changed.”

Erquiaga said he is hopeful and he believes the Legislature will come together to pass if not everything in the governor’s plan, but the vast majority of it.  


Dale Erquiaga, superintendent of public instruction, Nevada Department of Education

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Dale Erquiaga, superintendent of public instruction, Nevada Department of Education

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Brian Sandoval
KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada